Mosaic of China Season 02 Episode 09 – The Beer Boss (Sean HARMON, Duvel Moortgat)

Oscar Fuchs
OF: Welcome to Mosaic of China, a podcast about people who are making their mark in China. I'm your host, Oscar Fuchs.
Oscar Fuchs

China is the largest market in the world for beer in terms of volume. So what better guest to have on the podcast than Sean Harmon, the China head of the premium Belgian beer company Duvel Moortgat.

Original Date of Release: March 02, 2021.

Mosaic of China Season 02 Episode 09 – The Beer Boss (Sean HARMON, Duvel Moortgat)


OF: I think of those beers being big in Belgium. Can I say it again? Those beers being big in Belgium.


OF: Welcome to Mosaic of China, a podcast about people who are making their mark in China. I'm your host, Oscar Fuchs.

I'm going to keep today's intro short, since the interview itself starts with a nice introduction of today's guest, Sean Harmon. I'll be back again at the end of the episode, with information about a discount for listeners, so you'll want to stick around until then. Also, just two things to mention, at some point in the interview we referred to The King Albert Fund, that's a mistake, we should have said The Prince Albert Fund. And also the definition of craft beer in the U.S. has changed since we recorded this, it's now anything under 6 million barrels. That's it, let's start the show.

[Part 1]

OF: Well, thank you so much for coming in, Sean.

SH: Thanks for having me, Oscar.

OF: And what is your full title?

SH: My full title. Well, my name is Sean Harmon, and I'm the General Manager of Duvel Moortgat China.

OF: Say that again, Duvel…?

SH: Duvel Moortgat.

OF: Moortgat, right. That is what language?

SH: That's actually Flemish. So it's a Belgian company.

OF: OK. And you specialise in what product, for anyone who does not know?

SH: Beer. Specialty beer.

OF: OK. We're having a beer episode.

SH: We are.

OF: And I should basically volunteer the information pretty quickly that I'm not a beer drinker.

SH: I know, I know. It's sad, but we can't win them all, you know?

OF: Well, let's start in the same way that I start every episode, which is… What is the object that you've brought in that in some way exemplifies your life here in China?

SH: I brought in a bottle of Vedett Extra White.


SH: I wanted to be less cliché with what I did, but I couldn't. I couldn't think of anything that was more representative of my China experience. So this little bottle of Vedett Extra White is actually what took me all over China, over the past eight years, helping to grow the Duvel Moortgat business here. It's our best selling product for our company in China. And it's been the real growth engine throughout my eight year tenure. So it's a big part of my story. And actually, you'll see here, this bottle in particular has your face on the back.

OF: Dude! OK, oh my gosh.

SH: So that's one of the special things about Vedett, is that each bottle has a consumer's face on the back. So you can go on to the 小程序 [xiǎochéngxù] on WeChat, and upload your photo, and get a customised six pack - or 24-pack - sent to your house. So, a gift for you. Even though you won't drink it, I'm sure you know some people who will kindly enjoy it.

OF: I absolutely do. And it's not about the drink itself at this point, it's about my ego, obviously. So you might not have fed my stomach, but you're feeding my ego.

SH: I'm glad I could feed something.

OF: Well look, it's not to say that I don't drink beer. It's just, like… It's something which is always, like, in the background for me. I would never choose it as a drink myself. But when I have it, I do enjoy it. And I have had your beer, so please don't castigate me, I have drunk your beer.

SH: No problem, no problem. The market is big enough here, there are enough consumers for us to target, we'll let one slide.

OF: OK, good. And have you always been a beer drinker?

SH: I have always been a beer drinker. So when I tell my friends… or my friends first found out that I was going to work for a beer company, they all found it quite interesting because I'm a beer guy, and they know it very well. So…

OF: It was destined to be.

SH: It was destined to be.

OF: Well, what is the beer market in China?

SH: Well, China is the largest beer market in the world in terms of volume.

OF: Oh really?

SH: So it's huge, first and foremost. One in four beers in the world are consumed in China. In terms of profit, it's actually only number three, because the price, here, of beer is quite cheap. I mean, the number one brand here is Snow.

OF Oh right.

SH: But you're buying a Snow at, what, 3-4 RMB a bottle, so…

OF: And that's from, I would guess, a pretty low start, because historically China wouldn't have been a beer drinking country, right?

SH: Historically, it's a spirits country. It's a 白酒 [báijiǔ] country.

OF: Yeah.

SH: But they do like their beer. The market actually is declining slightly every year, as are beer markets all over the world. But what is a nice trend, especially for us is that, super premium beers - or 'specialty beers', as we like to call them - are growing very nicely. So the macro trend doesn't really affect our niche sector so much.

OF: Oh, interesting. So had I been interviewing somebody from a more mass-market brand like - I'm guessing, what? - a Heineken, a Budweiser… What are these brands we're talking about?

SH: So the biggest brand in China is China Resources, the company that owns Snow. I think their global headquarters is in Hong Kong. But they have offices all over the place. I'm not sure where their CEO of China sits, to be honest with you. They're big. ABI, of course - AB InBev - is a major beer player, they own roughly a third of the beer consumed in the world.

OF: Oh right.

SH: And then Carlsberg as well, is a big player. Heineken actually joined China Resources in China. Those are the big three that we… Well, the big two we look at in our company really is AB InBev and Carlsberg. But they're so much bigger than we are, it's totally different scales.

OF: Right. Yes, because there's been so much consolidation, and not just in beer, but also wine and spirits, and the whole alcohol market. But you as a company, you have remained pretty small, right?

SH: I mean, relatively. Duvel Moortgat is a family-owned company. So, established in 1871. The CEO today - named Michel Moortgat - is the fourth generation of the family. So the company now is around 500 million Euros in gross turnover. And that's doubled in the last five years, which is incredibly impressive.

OF: Oh wow.

SH: The brands we sell in China are Duvel, Vedett, Achouffe, Firestone Walker, Maredsous and Liefmans. Those are our focus brands here.

OF: He's doing his job well, he's got that all off the top of his head. I believe it's you, you are the GM. You said it's a Belgian beer, like… that has a connotation, right? Because Belgium, the beer culture there is pretty famous. It's a tiny country, but it has a lot of beer brands.

SH: Have you been to Belgium?

OF: I've been to Belgium.

SH: I mean, that's actually quite sad that you've been to Belgium, but you are not a beer guy.

OF: I'm a waffle guy, does that count?

SH: OK there you go. I mean, there's enough great waffles and chocolate as well. No, I mean, it's an incredible country with a very rich beer history. A lot of breweries that have been around for hundreds of years. And the people really do respect the craft, which is something that I really appreciate about working for a Belgian company. Craft Beer now - especially in the U.S. - is a huge trend. But Belgian beer, it's actually the original craft. Before 'craft beer' was a thing, Belgian beer was there doing it first and foremost.

OF: Well what does it even mean then? What does 'craft beer' mean?

SH: That's a complicated question. In China especially, I mean, the translation for 'craft', all sorts of companies are claiming now. So you have wheat beers that are considered 'craft', you have obviously IPAs… Anything that's non-lager in China is often called 'craft beer'. Globally speaking, I think it's something that is really focused on the quality of the product. Quality is the most important thing, and they're selling not the traditional standard product, which makes up the vast majority of the market. So, lager beer - filtered lager - is 90+ percent of the market, and we are doing the the other stuff, the specialty stuff that's a little bit different.

OF: So it's not actually about the scale, because in my mind, 'craft beer': I just think of the microbrewery and, you know "Here's my little brand, which I've come up with…" It's not about that.

SH: Well in the U.S. they have defined it, and that's a brewery doing less than 2 million barrels, until you can be considered one of the craft brands. But that term doesn't necessarily translate globally. So in Belgium, that's obviously not the case. That's why I prefer to use the term 'specialty beer', because I think it's more encompassing of what what really matters. And that's the fact that the product is really special. And in China, of course, it's it's all very, very new. So it's a very complex question, that seems very simple.

OF: What is the story of the company in China?

SH: It was started in 2006, technically. The first container arrived in 2007, which at that time for Belgian beer was extremely early, perhaps too early. It took a long time to build the volumes up. But that, for sure, gave us a very distinct first-mover advantage. And it was my boss - till today, and my first boss - named Vincent Smets, he came over actually, on a government grant called, it's called The Prince Albert Fund. And his goal was to do a market study of one year on the potential of the specialty beer industry in China. He completed that study, he said "You guys should definitely open an office, and you should hire me to do it". And…

OF: That's a small conclusion.

SH: It was a smart conclusion. And he did an excellent job. I mean, he… from the very early years, he was a one-man kind of Spartan operation. And then slowly but surely, we grew. I joined in 2012. That was here in Shanghai. And what was interesting about us, we did our own distribution, which - for many brand owners - is a very rare approach. But at the time, I think we were so early that the distributors didn't want our beer. So our beers were too expensive, they were too strong, they tasted funny… You know, people didn't get it. So it took time for that to kind of catch on, and the market to change. So we decided to basically create our own distribution network. We were delivering the beer to the bars, we were doing the sales, we were collecting the money. It was a very, very labour-intensive time in the company's history.

OF: I mean, it sounds like a startup. And that's what it was.

SH: It was very much so a startup. And it was a startup culture as well. So when we would open a new office, for example, we would hire someone, and this person would do all facets of the business. On their own, they would get on a three-wheeled bike, and drive the five cases of beer to the bar, and deliver it themselves. Even go install the draught machine, clean the beer lines. So that was the early years. And still today you'll have a bar owner come up to you and say "I remember back in 2010, when you had a 老外 [lǎowài] here delivering the cases to my door." And we got, definitely, a name in the specialty market for being so hands-on, so on-the-ground.

OF: Yeah. And totally visible, I guess, as well. Especially since, like, it was a foreigner, in one of these more provincial cities…

SH: Right.

OF: …Riding one of those scooters full of beer?

SH: Yeah, exactly.

OF: I can picture it in my head now. Is that how you started in the company?

SH: I started a little bit after the most laborious days.

OF: Right.

SH: But yes, I was very much doing a lot of labour aspects of the business. I packed glasses and coasters into boxes when a distributor would order. And yeah, it was fun. It was very fun to look back on. And there's a lot of good times.

OF: But that's exactly what I sense when you're talking about it. You know, I can see the smile on your face, I can see your eyes light up. You know, that part of the business - when you're really growing it - the expectations aren't there either. Like, it's almost experimental, you can just play, right?

SH: That's exactly right. And you wouldn't think that a global player would start a market like that. They were hands-off. They said "You guys go grow the business. If you need something, reach out and we'll try to support you in any way we can". And I think that's what made it work. So we started, really, in seven core markets.

OF: That seems quite a lot, actually. I think for you to regionalise so quickly, probably is not what everyone would have thought that you should do.

SH: Definitely not. That's actually the key to, I think, the success in the end. It was that we were on the ground in seven core markets. And we were well positioned. So when the market did turn - and the big guys started investing a lot into their specialty beers, and the trends changed - we were there. And we had boots on the ground, and we had a marketing plan. That's really what, I think, propelled us in the last eight years or so.

OF: Interesting. And because you were so frugal, with that mindset, I guess your overheads were kept low. So you were almost, like, latently waiting. And then you could start pumping in more investment later on.

SH: Exactly, yeah. But that was a challenge as well, I would say, to switch from that mentality of being very frugal to trying to get our team to invest in what they had. So we had a lot of hoarders of our promotional items, for example.

OF: Oh, what do you mean?

SH: We're talking, like, a neon, a light sign, a glass, a coaster… But some of that stuff is pretty expensive. So in the early days, we were extremely selective. You know, only the best accounts get a neon. And now we have KPIs for our sales teams that they need to go out and give out X neons in the quarter.

OF: Right.

SH: So changing that mentality of our team took some time.

OF: That's interesting. Can you think of any other examples from those times? Like, you know, when you would travel around, that cost would add up. But am I right in thinking of you taking, like, overnight trains? How else would you save money?

SH: Overnight, not so much. But we definitely had a very minimal travel expense policy. We always shared rooms, we still do today. We stayed in the cheapest of cheap hotels. So 七天 [Qītiān] - I don't know if you've heard of 7 Days Inn, or…? I was a 7 Days Inn member, 七天会员 [Qītiān huìyuán], there you go. Stayed in a lot of 七天 [Qītiān]s. I mean it's funny actually you mentioned that, because when we would go to these markets, we were also trying to kind of 'fake it until you make it'.

OF: Yeah.

SH: We had to meet distributors. So I would basically take a train to a city where I saw that we didn't really have much sales. And I would go around and try to find the bar selling any specialty beer, whether it's Hoegaarden or Corona, anything that's not Tsingtao or Snow. And I would try to find the guy that sold that beer to them, and try to have a meeting with that guy.

OF: Oh I see, so almost like reverse-engineer what he saw other beers doing.

SH: Yeah, exactly.

OF: Right.

SH: Because we didn't have the contacts. This is after we, kind of, shifted from only our own distribution, to saying "OK, now we want to expand distribution".

OF: Right.

SH: So I would arrive in the city, but I didn't want this big distribution company to think we were some tiny startup. So I remember in this one particular city, I would stay in the 七天 [Qītiān], which was next to the Shangri-La.

OF: Yes.

SH: And when the distributor would come pick me up for dinner, I would say just pick me up at the Shangri-La, I'd walk across the street, and wait in the lobby of the Shangri-La. And then he dropped me off back there at the end of the evening.

OF: I love it.

SH: 'Fake it till you make it', you know?

OF: Yeah. I mean, this is entrepreneurism. I mean, when I was starting my company, I used to have this lovely suit, and I used to meet at these great hotels just like you did, and then I would, like, around the corner be eating, like, a rice snack in the gutter.

SH: Exactly. I don't know if I could do it again. But it was… It was a trip, it was a ride.

OF: Yeah. Well, you've said then, there's been a challenge now to move away from that mindset. And now, you do have more budget. I guess the stress now is that, OK, you've proven yourself, you've got to a level where you've got this much growth, what's the next stage? And you know, what's the next pressure point? Is that the period of growth that you're in right now?

SH: Absolutely. I mean, the big lager players are investing heavily into the specialty sector. So we must stand our ground, we have to defend our market share, grow our market share. So the the strategy now is invest. Spend. And spend wisely. We don't just spend to spend, we try to spend as clever as we can.

OF: But in a way, it's a different skillset for you as a GM.

SH: I would say it kind of comes naturally somehow. I mean, that's what you do when you're growing is, you just rise to the challenge. There are problems every day, and you just have to try to attack it, you know, whatever it may be. So marketing is a great example, because digital is extremely complex. It's kind of a double-edged sword, because it's the best bang for your buck, in terms of generating brand awareness. But there's also a lack of transparency. I mean, there's these influencers - KOLs - there's a lot of fake data.

OF: Oh, really?

SH: Yeah. Yes. So you have to be aware of what's happening. It took some trial and error, for sure. But we learn fast.

OF: Let's just define this KOL term, it means…

SH: 'Key Opinion Leader', so it's an influencer basically.

OF: Right. So in China, this is what you need to use to promote your brand? You need to find the right opinion leader, right?

SH: Well I mean, there's lots of different ways to invest in marketing, but one of the best channels for sure is through KOLs. It's just, how to do that in a way that you're still efficient. And you're not pumping money into something which actually has a following of 5 million bots instead of real consumers.

OF: I see, yeah.

SH: Which is a very specific China conundrum. But we've learned a lot over the years in doing digital marketing, and now it's… Now I would say that we have a lot of KOLs we work with regularly, who we vetted, and we know them, they represent our brand. They're basically our brand representatives now, even though they're obviously third party influencers. But it's very impactful, and the reach is incredible.

OF: And this is - I mean, I'm guessing - the thing that keeps you most up at night. It is the marketing piece. How do you spend that money? How do you even justify it? And how can you track, what you're spending has what effect, right?

SH: I mean, definitely, that's where our biggest budgets are. I think also, innovation is a big one. Because I don't drink what my dad drank, you know.

OF: Right.

SH: And my dad doesn't drink what his dad drinks. So the market will change over time. And we're very aware of that.

OF: Yeah, you say innovation, it makes me ask, are there any types of beers or flavours that you find here in China that you perhaps wouldn't find elsewhere?

SH: In terms of specialty beer, the biggest, by far, is wheat beer. But now, in the last few years, we've seen a lot of fruit beer as well. So in addition to Vedette Extra White, we've launched Vedette Extra Rosé, which is white brewed with raspberries. So I mean that is a huge trend right now, is to sweeter fruity wheat beers and other fruit beers.

OF: Which strikes me as being a Belgian thing, like, I think of those beers being big in Belgium. Can I say it again? Those beers being big in Belgium.

SH: Yeah, I mean, there's definitely a history of fruit beer in Belgium. So they had the first advantage, the Belgian fruit beers. But you also have a lot of craft brewers here that are brewing some excellent IPAs and other unique styles as well. So it's coming. It's just, it's a process. For today wheat is, for sure, the most powerful sector.

OF: And who is your consumer? Like, do you have a particular demographic that you are marketing towards? Or who just happened to be the ones who like your beer?

SH: Generally, it's younger people. I mean, it's early 20s to late 30s. Our female demographic is actually quite strong as well. But yeah, it's young people who are, kind of, looking for something better. It's affordable luxury.

OF: Right. Right, this is it, because it's a premium beer, but it's not such a huge leap to go from a bog-standard beer to your beer, right?

SH: Right. In a shop, you're buying it at 16-25 块 [kuài]. I mean, it's not gonna break the bank. But you can appreciate some of the best beer in the world, for that affordable price.

OF: Nice. And, you know, you have gone through so many changes. What do you see as the future?

SH: Yeah, it's a good question. I mean, I think that it's so hard to leave China. The growth, the energy. I love the city, I love the people. Yeah, so we'll see. I mean, for now, it's a growth story.

OF: Yeah. And why not continue riding that wave while it lasts, right? Riding a wave of beer.

SH: Exactly.

OF: That would be a dream to some people, less so for others. Thank you so much, Sean. Now let's move on to Part 2.

SH: All right, let's do it.

[Part 2]

SH: 10 questions, let's do it.

OF: Are you ready?

SH: I am ready.

OF: Am I ready? Question 1, what is your favourite China-related fact?

SH: My favourite China related fact… There's so many, the easiest thing is to do with the scale of the country. This is maybe less true today after COVID. But a few years ago, China's economy was growing at the pace of one Australian economy every year.

OF: Oh wow, yeah. It's always interesting when you make that like-for-like comparison, you know.

SH: Yeah.

OF: Because your mind can't really understand the scale.

SH: Yeah. "What does GDP growth mean?"

OF: No, exactly.

SH: "It means one new Australia!"

OF: Yeah, it's a bit like when they say "Oh this is, like, five football fields' worth."

SH: Yeah, you can conceptualise it a little bit. Yeah, exactly.

OF: Australia-size…. Question 2, do you have a favourite word or phrase in Chinese?

SH: Let's think. I think the one I really like is, it's a phrase: 车到山前必有路 [Chē dào shān qián bì yǒu lù]. Before the car reaches the mountain, there must be a road. Which I think is really relevant here, because things are often not that easy, but if you do keep pushing and you keep going for it, usually you will find a way. It really spoke to me when I first heard it. And it's simple Chinese. I mean, it's not complicated. It's not like one of these four-character 成语 [chéngyǔ]s which you have to really know the story behind it. It's very direct, and it speaks to me, so I love that one.

OF: Yeah. And is it fatalism, where the road will suddenly appear? Or is it that you have to make the road?

SH: To me it says "just keep going". If you just keep driving, you keep going, the road we'll go through.

OF: I like it, thanks so much. Never heard it, I'm going to use it.

SH: Please do.

OF: What's your favourite destination within China?

SH: It's such a big country, so…

OF: You've travelled quite a lot, right?

SH: I've travelled a lot in China. I've been to most of the provincial capitals at this point. There's definitely more beautiful places in China than 莫干山 [Mògànshān], but to me it's kind of a sentimental place. I mean, we've had a lot of our annual company meetings there with our management team. We cook together, we run together through the mountains, we do walks, and we create the new strategy for the new year. I also go there with my friends, on weekends to get out of the city. To me, it has a very special place in my heart. I mean, now it's getting so built up, which is a bit of a shame.

OF: Yes, yes. People like you keep talking about it, man.

SH: I know, I know. And now I'm sitting here saying it on podcast, which isn't helping my case I guess. Whatever.

OF: If you left China, what would you miss the most? And what would you miss the least?

SH: What I would miss the most is the energy. I think I mentioned that in our chat. It's just so powerful here. If you push, and you have a great product and a great plan, and you put it to action, things can happen. And people work hard. And it's fun, it's addicting, that sort of energy where you feel like anything's possible. Then the other side of that question is, it's got to be the pollution. And it's not only the air pollution. For me, it's also the noise pollution.

OF: Oh right.

SH: You know the power drill, my boss used to call that 'the birds of Shanghai', because you don't hear birds that often but you do hear that power drill frequently.

OF: But those two things that you've said… you don't get this energy, this growth, this movement, without the sound of a growing city, right?

SH: Exactly, and that's why I'm still here. It evens itself out, you know, it's all worth it.

OF: Is there anything that still surprises you about life in China?

SH: I mean, every day, yes, absolutely. That's also one of the things I like so much about living here. But recently, top of mind is for sure eCommerce. The power in reach of a channel that's so new. And how quickly everyone, it seems, has adapted to it. Regardless of age, I mean, everyone is buying online, it feels like.

OF: OK, next question. What is your favourite place to go out, to eat or drink or just hang out?

SH: So I'm a 静安 [Jìng'ān] guy. I've lived in 静安 [Jìng'ān] most of my time in Shanghai, it's a district downtown. And our office is right at the crossroads of 武定 [Wǔdìng] and 胶州 [Jiāozhōu] which you know. We were very lucky to choose that location. We moved in there in 2011, at that time, there was no bars on that street. And fortunately for us, they kind of built the road around us somehow. Being a beer company, we have a lot of clients on that street. So we'll pop down to Malabar and have a beer there.

OF: Malabar.

SH: But there are a lot of places I could mention to go have a good beer. I also love The Rooster, I love Café des Stagiaires and… But it's countless, I mean, being connected to the F&B industry.

OF: Yeah. Well, I like Malabar, because that has a nice interesting link to Angie Wu from Season 01, who said the same bar.

SH: Oh really?

OF: Yeah.


OF: Maybe you're gonna run into her there.

SH: OK yeah, it's a great place.

OF: What is the best or worst purchase you've made in China?

SH: The best purchase… I've listened to some of your podcasts. And I was really trying to think of something different. But there's no better answer than the scooter. I mean, the scooter is…

OF: Oh right

SH: It shrinks the city. I've had a scooter since I first arrived, and it's one of my favourite things to do, just to ride around the city on my scoot. My fiancée also has a scooter, and we love to cruise. It's amazing, especially when the weather's nice.

OF: What a beautiful, romantic image you're giving me. Actually, I'm not even on Mobikes now, I just walk everywhere.

SH: Wow. Yeah.

OF: What is your favourite WeChat sticker? OK, he's getting his phone out. Let me just check mine.

SH: I don't know why I love this sticker, but if you talk to my colleagues, they will say that I certainly overuse this sticker. It's Denzel Washington in Training Day, and he just says "Boom". I don't know why, it just makes me laugh. And when you get good news at work, or something happens, where you know, you land an account and… Yeah, to celebrate a bit, just give an old Denzel "boom".

OF: OK, I'm gonna use this one. That's a great one.

SH: It's also a great movie, if you haven't seen it.

OF: I haven't seen it.

SH: Check it out, it's worth watching.

OF: It's an action movie, is it?

SH: Yes, but with great dialogue.


SH: Try it.

OF: What is your go-to song to sing at KTV?

SH: You know, I wish I was a better singer. But I'm not great at KTV, I'm not the star of the room by any means. If I have to sing - and I will sing - I do like the… I used to very much like the… Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the range of the lead singer Anthony Kiedis, he doesn't get too high or too low.

OF: Ah right.

SH: So it's manageable, without completely embarrassing yourself. Maybe 'By the Way', if I have to choose one.

OF: And finally, what other China-related media or sources of information do you rely on?

SH: I was actually just this morning listening to the new Sinica Business Brief.

OF: Right.

SH: I think it's a weekly podcast. It's like 20 minutes, and it just updates you on, kind of, all that's happening in the world of China business. I also read Axios on China.

OF: Right.

SH: It's a newsletter in your inbox, it's great.

OF: Interesting.

SH: So that's two great sources of China news for sure.

OF: Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Sean. I mean, as I said at the beginning as well, like, I'm not a beer drinker…

SH: Let's have one beer together, and then maybe you can reassess.

OF: Done.


OF: Done. And before you leave, let me ask you one final question. Who, out of everyone you know in China, would you recommend that I interview for the next season of Mosaic of China?

SH: So many options. But I think a really cool story is the story of Peddlers Gin Company.

OF: Right.

SH: A friend of mine is a Co-Founder there, Fergus. And they're creating something I think is really impressive. It's a great quality product. Still the alcohol industry, but different. It'd be a cool story, I think, for everyone to learn.

OF: That's great. Well maybe, that is the equivalent story in the world of gin as you are in the world of beer.

SH: Yeah, it's a startup story, for sure.

OF: Great. Thank you so much, Sean.

SH: Thank you, Oscar. It's been a pleasure.


OF: So first things first, where's the discount I mentioned? For this one you'll need to be in one of the WeChat groups for the show. I've posted a special QR code there, which you can scan to open the miniprogram. And from there you can then upload a photo to print on a 6-pack of any Vedett beers, and you'll get a 30 RMB discount voucher on top. Cheers!

Also in the WeChat groups, and on the website, you'll find the images alongside today's episode, including photos of the Duvel Moortgat team in Moganshan and elsewhere; one of Sean's boss and predecessor Vincent installing a neon; and one of Sean and his fiancée out and about on their scooters in Shanghai. Incidentally, there were four people from Season 01 who chose their scooters as their best purchase in China, and one of them was Jorge Luzio, the China head of Marketing for the Sprite band at Coca-Cola from Episode 05. Sean touched on the topic of digital marketing in today's conversation, but if you want to hear more, please listen to that episode with Jorge. There's also a secret digital marketing connection between Sean and Stéphane Wilmet from L'Oréal, who featured in Episode 01 of Season 02, the secret being that you can only hear that part of Stéphane's chat if you're a Patreon subscriber. Here are a few clips from today's extended interview over on Patreon with Sean…

[Clip 1]

SH: We ended up staying in Hong Kong for five weeks with, I think, three cancelled flights.

OF: Oh right.

[Clip 2]

SH: We've worked with him this year, and the scale is unbelievable. 30 million people watching.

[Clip 3]

SH: We've worked with a lot of different live stream sellers. And what we've realised is, it's the big ones that actually do the trick.

[Clip 4]

SH: We're a young group. I think our average age is around 32. And that's my age as well. So yeah.

OF: Really?

SH: Yeah.

[End of Audio Clips]

And that's all for today. Mosaic of China is me, Oscar Fuchs, with artwork by Denny Newell. Stick around for the catch-up chat with Simon Manetti from Season 01 Episode 17, and we'll be back again this time next week.

[Catch-Up Interview]

OF: Hello, Simon.

Simon Manetti: Hi.

OF: The dulcet tones of Simon Manetti. How the hell are you?

SM: I'm tired. I've been off coffee now for maybe 12 days. And it's hard. And I've been off booze since - just checking my watch - for eight days. And that's less hard. But now it's the weekend. So it's a true test.

OF: Oh, that's right. So this is a January thing for you, is it?

SM: Yes.

OF: And you are visibly struggling.

SM: Thanks. It is Friday afternoon. First week back at work. Negative 4 degrees. So it's a tough time.

OF: It is. Well, let's start there, then. So you said that it is the end of a long week of work. And that's one of the changes that I know has happened since our last chat.

SM: Was it not mentioned at all last time? No, maybe not. So I'm now Managing Director of Ritter Sport China, the wonderful German chocolate company, that is very well represented in many expat stores in China. So it massively over-indexes amongst the expat community, but we need to grow among the true heart of China. Things like localising the brand, getting the portfolio right. And this Ritter Sport family cares very deeply about their impact on the world through the company. The company they see as something that was gifted to them through inheritance, and it is their opportunity to do good in the world. So chocolate is actually just a vehicle to do good in the world. And every company you join will tell you "You've just joined a family", and they will say they care about you, and that they have a purpose and a vision. But having been on the agency side, I've advised so many of those companies on how to structure their vision and their mission, and it's all so synthetic. Whereas you come to a company like Ritter Sport, and you see it. There is an authentic value system driving this company. So that has been an extremely motivating and rewarding experience. So I'm - though I look exhausted - I'm in a very, very happy place.

OF: Nice. But I don't want to go into the chocolate industry. What I want to latch on to is the word 'family', because that's another big change that we've had since our recording. What happened?

SM: So I have a baby boy, Louie Edward Manetti. Quite a mix of culture there. And I have a wife that is five months pregnant.

OF: Dude.

SM: Yeah.

OF: Congratulations.

SM: Yes, yes.

OF: I'm glad that I caught you now, before your life gets even more into a turmoil. So what were you doing in the last year over COVID?

SM: So, I was off to New Zealand for a wedding over the Chinese New Year period. And then say, by Feb 6 or so, flights were cancelled, and we had to make a new plan. So ended up with all of our summer gear, flying directly into the depths of winter - I should say, the tail-end of winter - in Europe. And I spent the next nine months in my mother-in-law's polo shirts. Because my mother-in-law is the sweetest woman alive. I feel bad about saying it, but honestly, we had the most incredible 2020.

OF: Right.

SM: We were so lucky because we were staying in Talloires, which is near Annecy. You're surrounded by beautiful nature. It's France, so food and wine is spectacular. We were really really lucky.

OF: I'm just going back to our original episode, and I'm thinking about what you said about what you would miss the most and missed the least, if you left China. And you did leave China. So I wanted just to check on you and to see, was that true? So what you said that you'd miss was the optimism of China. Because whenever you go to Europe, it's all grumpy and negative. And then what you said that you'd missed the least is when the internet doesn't work properly.

SM: Hmm, interesting. So optimism, definitely true. But when you move into the house of another, what I really missed was being able to be selfish, and…

OF: Impolite, basically.

SM: Impolite. Yeah, I found that challenging. And that would, kind of, build up. And in the end, I didn't get to see so many people, because we were in lockdown. So I only saw those immediately around me. So yeah, I can't say that I tested that one. In terms of internet, I actually had a lot of problem getting stable internet in France as well. So both of those have been dispelled, really.

OF: Interesting.

SM: Yeah, I was wrong.

OF: On that note, let me say thank you again for coming in. It's great to see you, to have a catch up. The person who recommended for Season 2 actually couldn't be part of the season, but I found a good replacement. So I will be posting this conversation at the end of that episode. But I'm very happy that there is an excuse for us to be in the same room again, and I hope we have another excuse to do it again in the future.

SM: Me too.

OF: Lies!

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